Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category.

On foot in Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto was the ancient capital of Japan and is home to a large number of temples and shrines, several of which are World Heritage listed. These sites, combined with some well preserved areas and architecture make Kyoto an attractive city to visit; indeed tourism is a major part of the economy. For foreign visitors, the city’s proximity to Tokyo makes a short trip feasible and very worthwhile.

I found Kyoto to be, like Tokyo, an excellent place to explore on foot. The city tourist association produces a ‘Kyoto City Map’ which includes some recommended walks. I did three of them, described below, and can recommend them all. The three chosen take in all the major attractions of the city, including the Kiyomizudera Temple, the Golden and Silver pavilions and the Ryoan-ji stone garden.

I’ve scanned the relevant parts of the map for each walk – the walk routes are marked by a solid red line.

1. Kiyomizudera Temple and Gion, home of the Geishas

This walk takes in the very popular and World Heritage listed Kiyomizudera Temple as well as the district of Gion, traditional home of the Geishas and many other interesting and attractive temples. I found Kiyomizudera Temple lived up to its reputation – and it was very busy the day I was there (Saturday).

The walk could be started anywhere along the route, but the easiest access points are probably Keihan-Shijo station or walking/taxi to Kijomizudera Temple or Heian Jingu Shrine.

Kyoto Map #1

2. The Path of Philosophy

This walk takes in more temples including the excellent Ginkakuji Temple (Silver Pavilion). A large part of the route follows a path by one of the old canals called the “Path of Philosophy”. I found this section to be particularly atttractive.

The obvious points to start this walk are at either end – the southern end is easily walkable from the Heian Jingu shrine, the northern finish point of walk #1 and the northern end is served by a bus stop (Ginkakuji-michi).

Kyoto Map #2

3.The Ryoan-ji Stone Garden and the Golden Pavilion

This walk is based in the Kinkakuji/Uzumasa Area. The two major highlights are the Ryoan-ji Temple and its stone (dry) garden and the Golden Pavilion at Kinkakuji Temple (which is a replica, the original was burned down). I particularly like Japanese gardens, and both the Ryoan-ji and Kinkakuji Temples have fine examples that are worth exploring.

Access is via train to Uzumasa Koryuji station or cab. I took the train there and then hopped in a taxi at Kinkakuji Temple (there were plenty available) to return to my hotel.

Kyoto Map #3

Access to Kyoto: Probably the easiest way to get to Kyoto from Tokyo is via the Shinkansen (Bullet train), which takes between two and a half and three hours. If arriving from Tokyo airport on the JR train and continuing straight on to Kyoto, allow yourself plenty of time to change trains – it’s quite a walk from the airport express platforms to the Sanyo Shinkansen tracks that are used by the trains to Kyoto – it took me a bit over 20 mins to transfer and I was travelling fairly light.

On foot in Tokyo, Japan

When visiting a new city, I’m a big fan of exploring on foot wherever possible. I’ve been fortunate to visit some great cities and will try and post some walk suggestions over the course of the next few weeks. To get started, here’s a few from Tokyo, Japan.

My first visit to Tokyo back in 2003 was not really planned – I’d cashed in some frequent flyer points, generated during my former sad life as a management consultant, for a trip to Europe. The ‘kangaroo’ route (via Singapore/Bangkok) was fully booked, but there were still seats going via Tokyo. I figured that if I was going that way, I may as well have a look around beyond the confines of the airport, so decided to stay over for a few days. I loved the place, and have been back several times since.

Described in Lonely Planet’s “Best of Tokyo” guide as an “engaging, bizarre, manic and totally fascinating maze-like cosmopolis,” Tokyo is a great place to experience on foot. It’s a large city, but the public transport system is very efficient, allowing easy access to the various neighbourhoods.

Here are some recommended walks – they’re only suggestions, part of the fun is exploring for yourself – and are offered from the perspective of an interested tourist; I’m by no means an expert.

1. A splendid Shinto Shrine and a magnificent view

The suggestion here is to catch the metro to Harajuku (Yamanote line) station and then walk through the peaceful grounds of Yoyogi-koen to visit Meiji-Jingu, a beautiful Shinto shrine. The shrine itself is a reconstruction, the original was destroyed during WWII. After exploring the shrine, visit the Meiji-jingu-gyoen, a peaceful park, and then walk north through the grounds to exit from the north passing under the Shuto Expressway no. 4.

From here continue northish towards Shinjuku; this section provides a good glimpse of city life. The final destination is the New York Bar & Grill on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt hotel, from which there are magnificent views.  A drink here is a fine way to finish off a day of sight-seeing. This hotel was used as one the main settings for Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film “Lost in Translation” – if you’ve seen the film you’ll probably recognise the New York Bar. From the Park Hyatt it’s a short walk to Shinjuku JR and metro stations.

The walk can be extended by walking north through the Shinjuku Chuo-koen and then turning right (east) past the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices (there’s a public observation deck in these buildings) and back to Shinjuku station.

2. The Imperial Palace

Start at Tokyo station (JR or metro) and walk east towards Wadakura Square. From here proceed south into the Imperial Palace outer gardens and just have a stroll and look around. If you’re fortunate enough to be visiting in Spring you should see some Cherry Blossoms. 

From the gardens proceed west and have a look at the Tokyo International Forum, before turning north back to the start.

Other areas worth visiting:

  • Ueno – take a walk around Ueno Park – there are temples to see as well as a concentration of museums and galleries. The Tokyo National Museum and Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art are both well worth visiting and both have a useful amount of information in English.
  • Asakusa – walk north from Asakusa subway station and visit Asakusa-koen and the Senso-ji shrine. Enter through Kaminari-mon (Thunder Gate) and proceed through a street of shops (Nakamise-dori) which is likely to be very busy, before entering the main temple area. Return to Asakusa subway station or alternatively take a Sumida-Gawa cruise.
  • Ginza – explore the stores in this area – if you’re a tech geek (I am) make sure you visit the Sony store.
  • Shibuya – a great place to people watch. The Starbucks across the road from the subway station provides a good location to do this.
  • Yebisu Garden Place – My main motivation for coming here was to visit the headquarters of Sapporo breweries and the attached Beer Museum to pay homage to their excellent product. Note that there’s no actual garden here – it’s a collection of shops and restaurants along with the aforementioned beer museum and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.

Further afield:

For a description of a climb of Mt Fuji in September, click here.

For more on hiking (and climbing) in Japan, check out i-cjw’s blog.

Climbing Mt Fuji

Mt Fuji in cloud

(This is a guest post by my father, Duncan Payling)

Mt. Fuji, a sacred mountain, stands at 3,776 m (12,388 ft) high. It is Japan’s highest and most prominent mountain and the second highest single mountain in the world after Mount Kilimanjaro.

The official climbing season is between 1 July and 27 August during which the mountain tracks become extremely busy and sometimes heavily congested with thousands of hopeful pilgrims attempting the climb.

The climb described here is via one of the most popular routes “The Yoshidaguchi Climbing Trail” from the 5th Station (2,305 m) to the summit. This particular route was selected as the climb was undertaken in early September, outside the normal climbing period, and time was limited. It also relied on using public transport from Tokyo, which is somewhat restricted outside the official climbing period.From 5th Station, the advised times for the climb are:
Ascent: 5-7 hours
Descent: 3-5 hours

Mt Fuji climbing route signDuring the official climbing season one can board a bus in Shinjuku and travel directly to the 5th station (Yamanashi Prefecture). To get there out of season I caught the regular bus from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko Train Station and then a local shuttle bus to Kawaguchiko 5th Station. Also as a result of limited bus access and a 2.00 pm arrival time a decision had to be made to stay on the mountain overnight. This was no problem and was in keeping with my plan to experience the sunrise from the summit. Alternatively a later start and a night climb would have been a viable option.

Despite all the dire warnings I had read on various web sites about the appeal and cost of using the various huts on the trail I wanted the opportunity to stay in a Japanese hut to compare it with those experienced in the European Alps. I have to admit that the warnings were accurate and in my opinion a nights stay at one of these huts bears no comparison to the level of comfort or value found in their European counterparts. However it was a memorable if somewhat uncomfortable experience.

Mt Fuji climbing route 1Starting on the trail at 2.00 pm there were few people around once I left the confines of the tourist shops and restaurants at the 5th Station. The track was reasonably easy going, zigzagging it’s way upwards with a few sections of rocky terrain protected by wire rope or chain. As one got higher the incline of the track became steeper but was not technically difficult. Thankfully although somewhat chilly there was little wind. The prospect of walking up paths surrounded by slopes covered in loose volcanic ash and fine sand would have been somewhat uncomfortable in even a modest breeze. During the afternoon I met a few other climbers taking shelter at the various rest stops along the way. Most of these facilities were all securely locked and battened down for the winter period. Arriving at the Real 8th station at about 16.30 hrs I was running out of options where to stay so opted for a hut at this level that was still open and paid to have a meal and stay the night. I was shown to where I was to spend the night in a typical matratzenlager style dormitory and was then given a plate of unidentifiable brown curry and rice followed by several cups of welcome tea.

Mt Fuji climbing route 2After an uncomfortable night an early start at 03.30 to set off for the summit was not such a big deal despite the lack of sleep and advancing years. Still at least I hadn’t needed to buy a can of instant oxygen to survive! Leaving the hut that morning it was quite a surprise to see the increased numbers of people making their way upwards in the dark, lamps shining, heads bobbing around like fireflies. A number of groups had made it up during the night and were straggling in line behind their leaders who were carrying poles with lights on the end and shepherding them ever upwards and shouting words of encouragement.

As the track meandered on it was evident that a few people were showing signs of distress both from over exertion and also lack of oxygen. Sensibly their companions were either letting them rest or taking them down the trail to a lower altitude to recover.

After about another hour of walking up numerous switchbacks on the trail one arrives at a set of stairs, which ascend through a wooden tori gate before finally arriving at the summit. Along with a few dozen other enthusiastic climbers having made it before the sun is due to rise everyone is taking the opportunity to take photographs of themselves under the summit tori gate as evidence of their achievement. The weather was fine although chilly in keeping with the altitude. (Average Annual Mid-Summer Temperature on the summit is 6 ° C)

Looking around as the sun begins to rise and the colours in the sky become more intense the real magic of the occasion becomes apparent and the effort involved in climbing this iconic mountain is amply rewarded. After watching the sun appear fully on the horizon it was time to go down I had achieved my goal.

The decent is reasonably straightforward providing one remembers to make sure to follow the Descending trail after the Edoya Hut and not to try and go down the Ascending route. I was back down at Kawaguchiko 5th Station in about 3 hrs and had a celebratory breakfast consisting of a plate of freshly prepared gyoza and a can of Mt Fuji beer!

Unfortunately being dependent on local transport a tedious few hours had to be spent waiting around before returning to Kawaguchiko train station to retrieve my luggage from the lockers there and continue on my journey to Kyoto.

Needless to say climbing Mt Fuji is a serious undertaking despite its popularity and this is particularly so out of season when most facilities on the mountain are closed. Normal precautions should be taken for climbing mountains of this altitude and suitable clothing and equipment must be carried. Also in retrospect I should have carried a more varied supply of food and drink.

Given the opportunity to do the climb again I would still go out of season but do the whole trail starting from the Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine (850m) with arrival time at the summit to coincide with sunrise and then descend to Kawaguchiko 5th Station and take the bus.

The advised times for the climb from the Fuji Sengen Shrine are:
Ascent: 10 – 11 hours
Descent: 6 hours

Mt Fuji summit Sunrise from Mt Fuji 1 Sunrise from Mt Fuji 2 Tori Gate